When she was 5 years old, Tayler Plunkett met the 2002 Miss Tri-Cities — Mischa Willis.
“She gave me her complete, undivided attention,” Plunkett said. “I remember watching her on VHS. Every Sunday I would watch that and I wanted to do that.”
Now 20 years old, Plunkett, the reigning Miss Tri-Cities, is spending the week in Renton preparing to compete on Friday and Saturday in the Miss Washington competition.
“I am astounded by the way this program has shaped my life by giving me confidence, life skills, scholarships and a focus on servant leadership,” she said.
The 20 contestants from across the state are spending their days either rehearsing or going on community visits during Miss Washington Week. The group received a special tour of Renton’s Boeing plant.
“That was an incredible experience,” she said.
They also delivered blankets and toiletries to the families at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The handmade blankets were for the children, and the toiletries for the harried families who rushed to the hospital to be with their ill child without getting a chance to pack.
I was struggling to keep up with my classes and, as a first-generation college student, I was unaware of the resources available to me.
Tayler Plunkett, Miss Tri-Cities
“These parents arrive there with nothing,” she said. “It’s the least we can do.”
The competition is the culmination of a year of service from Plunkett, who is dedicated to helping students make their way through higher education. A WSU Tri-Cities student, Plunkett led 32 trainings for peer mentors, gave 25 presentations to community groups about higher education and is freshman mentor.
When she started attending the university, she discovered it was more difficult than she expected to make the transition from Southridge High senior to college student.
“I was struggling to keep up with my classes and, as a first-generation college student, I was unaware of the resources available to me,” she said.
She interviewed to be part of the university’s GEAR UP program, which helps high school students make the transition to college.
“Working closely with high school students has allowed me to hear firsthand of the struggles and concerns they have,” she said.
Dot Stewart, the Miss Tri-Cities Scholarship Program executive director, said Plunkett has been amazing in her role. She appeared more than 150 times, promoted her platform and attracted several sponsors.
Even if she doesn’t win the Miss Washington crown, Plunkett will walk away from the weekend without any regrets and an admiration for her fellow contestants, Stewart and the dozens of volunteers that make the program possible.
“I never knew how much the community would rally around me,” she said. “It’s everything I thought it would be and more.”